This blog has a long tradition of covering games way after everyone else on earth has stopped giving a shit about them. But we shouldn’t always be obsessed with the new and shiny, the games of the past have so much to teach us that it would be a waste to condemn them to the piles of shame we carry with us like chains on a Dickensian ghost. So we come to Alan Wake American Nightmare
Alan Wake American Nightmare is the kinda sequel to the original Alan Wake. I say sort of as the game is only three hours longs (On my first playthrough) and feels more like a DLC expansion than a full on game on its own. I’ve owned both the Alan Wake games for a number of years (think I got them on a humble bundle) but never got round to playing them. Over the last week, details for what Alan Wake 2 would have been like were released. The footage got my interest so I decided to take the time to download the smaller of the two games to see what I was missing.
The game itself was pretty decent third-person, over the shoulder shooting. I’m not going to judge it too harshly as it’s a game that’s about three years old and is kinda showing it’s age in a lot of ways. Graphically it’s a bit poor with the game being littered with some awful textures and character models that I really began to wonder why this game had become something of a cult classic among gamers.
The games influences in both Alan Wake and American Nightmare are pretty clear right from the start. Taking cues from cult American shows such as Twin Peaks and Twilight Zone, much of the games themes appear to be about the twisted nature of life in America that hides behind the pleasant facade of normalcy. Alan Wake’s nemesis Mr. Scratch is the personification of the twisted desires that Alan refuses give into. Many famous writers over the years have fought their own personal demons such as depression, alcoholism or drug addiction and Mr. Scratch is Alan’s dark impulses made flesh.
Having a main character who is a writer (As I occasionally try to brand myself as) was pretty cool. Very rarely do I identify with the hyper-masculine assortment of vaguely similar protagonists so it was interesting to see a man of letters be given a shot at playing the lead (Of course he’s still a white, mid-thirties American so not too different) the thing is Alan isn’t an ordinary writer, he’s wish fulfillment for the games writers, and in a way for any other writer. Alan Wake is a successful TV writer who starts writing a hit series of books and has become extraordinarily wealthy and famous (even recognizable on the street), can you see the wish fulfillment? In the world of Alan Wake, Alan is basically Stephen King or George RR Martin. However since you can’t really have an interesting story about an absurdly wealthy and privileged guy who does whatever he wants (Outside of Wolf of Wall Street) Alan fights his personal demons who are made manifest through Mr Scratch and the darkness (Mr. Scratch being a nickname for the devil in Pre civil war America)
So what is Mr. Scratch and the Darkness? These two things are particular hard to work out but are certainly interesting. Scratch is Alan’s doppelganger who threatens to take his life over and leave chaos and destruction in his wake. To Alan, he’s a psychotic serial killer who takes great joy in hurting others, but to others who don’t see his evil nature, he’s the life and soul of the party whose presence is somewhat intoxicating. Two of the three women Alan meets who’ve met Scratch are sexually attracted to him and his infectious spirit. At his most basic level Scratch is Alan’s ID (Welcome to pop psychology 101) All the things Alan has wanted to be in his darkest moments, Scratch does without a moment’s hesitation. This doesn’t just mean kill and maim others, it’s being popular with women, enjoying life and being able to let go once in a while. Most writers I know are pretty introverted people, who find more comfort in creating fiction than going to parties or clubs. We all crave to be the type of person who can enter a room and become the center of attention thanks to their sexual energy and winning personality. When Alan first finds the success he goes off the rails with his drinking and partying but he knew the party had to stop, but his Mr. Scratch never did and so when Alan stops, he angers Scratch.
What about the Darkness? Well seeing as how he’s a writer, and the Darkness envelopes the world, and only Alan can it break with his flashlight the Darkness is writers block. Whether you’re writing your 1st or 100th essay, novel, script or limerick, Writer’s Block hits us all. For some it last only a few hours to days, for others it can last a hell of a lot longer. Before the events of the first game, Alan goes off the rails partying and drinking and not writing. Your imagination is a bit like a muscle, with regular exercise it can be in tip top condition and ready to go whenever you want, but let it get rusty for a few weeks and you’ll find that you just can’t summon the same creative energy you once had until you keep practicing. The Darkness embodies this inability to imagine and write, under the darkness you can only make vague outlines of things, with no real detail.
So let’s pull back and think about all this, from 2010’s initial release to 2012 and American Nightmare, a triple-A horror game was released and has a pretty overt subtext all about writer’s block and fighting inner demons. That’s pretty fucking cool. I’m sure many people took the game as horror experience and didn’t look too deeply into the meaning of the darkness. To them, it was just a scary game about finding this guy wife and killing shadow zombies (Funny in a game with original ideas it’s still got the same premise as the old Mario games)
I’ll probably ending up doing some more on my thoughts on Alan Wake over the next few weeks, it really has gripped me. May end up putting out some videos about my thoughts as well (If I can just get Action working instead of crashing my computer)